Wednesday, 7th June 2023

How frontrunners scheme to outdo one another for Northwest’s vote

By Leo Sobechi, Deputy Politics Editor, Abuja
13 January 2023   |   4:06 am
The pressure on President Muhammadu Buhari to join the campaign trail of All Progressives Congress (APC) presidential candidate, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, was the need to turn over the famed Buhari’s vote-bank warehousing not less than 12 million ballots. The outgoing President ever since he ventured into electoral contests after his stint as Nigeria’s military head…

The pressure on President Muhammadu Buhari to join the campaign trail of All Progressives Congress (APC) presidential candidate, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, was the need to turn over the famed Buhari’s vote-bank warehousing not less than 12 million ballots.

The outgoing President ever since he ventured into electoral contests after his stint as Nigeria’s military head of state, had been returning a steady vote tally of 12million. From his debut in 2003, when he sought to disrupt the incumbent president Olusegun Obasanjo’s second term aspiration, Buhari garnered substantial votes from the entire Northern region.

Against former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan in 2007 and 2011 respectively, the President, who is popularly hailed as Mai Gaskiya (the upright one) did not disappoint his supporters.

Based on the lack of spread in his polling numbers, the leaders of Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) decided to enter into political alliance with Buhari, who had rallied associates to form the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC).  Although the merger that happened in 2013, which gave birth to APC, incorporated other previous fringe political platforms, the marriage was mainly between ACN and CPC.

From the build-up to the 2011 general elections, when the idea of political collaboration was mooted as a potent force to defeat PDP, up to the successful amalgamation of five political tendencies in 2013, Buhari has proved himself a sure magnet for northern votes.

Supported by this hybrid platform, President Buhari succeeded in giving APC two terms of the country’s Presidency. However, having exhausted his constitutional licence to participation in the presidential contest, what happens to the Buhari vote bank has become a subtext in the calculations for this year’s historic poll.

Expectedly, with Buhari’s absence on the ballot, both the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) and main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) believe they would sort things out in their continuing rivalry in Nigeria’s electoral space.

While the APC saw its dominance of the densely populated Northwest as a sure banker in its journey to retain the Presidency, PDP looks forward to harvesting the famed President Muhammadu Buhari’s 12million votes to displace APC.

It was therefore the desire to corner the Buhari vote-bank that culminated in the internal squabble between Sokoto State governor, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal and former Kano State governor, Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso over the control of the Northwest zonal caucus of PDP.  Tambuwal, Kwankwaso and former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, who contested the 2019 presidential ticket of the party, were also looking forward another outing in 2023.

Consequently, while the two Northwest leaders -Tambuwal and Kwankwaso-slugged it out during the Northwest zonal congress of the party, Atiku was quietly donating strategic support to Tambuwal in the belief that as a younger politician, the Sokoto State governor was more likely to align with his (Atiku’s) final bid for the Presidency, unlike Kwankwaso.

After many disruptions, the Northwest zonal congress held in Kaduna and Senator Bellow Gwarzo was elected the Vice Chairman, having defeated Mohammed Yusuf by 426 votes to 313. Although the returning officer and chairman of the PDP Northwest congress, Senator Attah Aidoko Alli, described the election as free and fair, the contest did not receive the stiff competition and tension that led to earlier attempts.

The Guardian gathered that having weighed the options of his continued stay in PDP, Senator Kwankwaso decided to resign his membership once again, a development that fuelled speculations about a possible return to APC.

But, contrary to speculations, the former Kano State governor went for a sleepy New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) and revived his presidential aspiration. Tambuwal was to prove sceptics right during the PDP special convention and presidential primary in Abuja by stepping down for Atiku.

The Sokoto State governor, who was earlier side-lined by the Northern Elders Forum led by Prof Ango Abdullahi in its search for a shortlist of northern presidential aspirants, had rebuffed the consensus shortlist, stressing that he was not party to it.

NEF had, in its report and recommendations, disclosed that the decision to settle for immediate past President of Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, and incumbent Bauchi State governor, Senator Bala Mohammed, was informed by the fact that with Buhari serving out his second term in 2023, it would not be fair and proper for the president to be succeeded by another person from Northwest.

With less than 40 days to the presidential election, the search for Northwest ballots, the mainstay of President Buhari’s vote bank, has become central as the front runners, particularly Atiku and Tinubu strive to win. APC presidential campaign council continues to boast that having six out of the seven states in its corner, its presidential contender, Tinubu, would coast home easily.

In an interview with The Guardian penultimate week, former national secretary of APC, Architect Waziri Bulama, noted that the party was not leaving anything to chance to retain the Presidency. Bulama disclosed that all the 22 state governors elected on the party’s platform, particularly those from the Northwest, are working assiduously together to ensure that Tinubu become President come May 29, 2023.

The former APC scribe denied insinuations that President Buhari was not in support of Tinubu, especially the same faith presidential ticket. He insisted that the party was going into the election as a united front.

Also, a foundation member of APC, Mr. Osita Okechukwu, has continued to argue that two powerful factors that would deny PDP and Atiku of harvesting Buhari’s dormant votes include the power rotation arrangement championed by the 19 APC northern governors as well as the perception that Atiku does not fit into the frame of Buhari as a friend of the talakawas.

But, pushing back on APC’s optimism, the PDP Presidential Campaign Council contends that Tinubu’s failure to select any of the Northwest governors as his running mate injured their confidence, thereby paving the way for the bourgeoning internal sabotage.

Spokesperson of the Atiku Presidential campaign, Mr. Daniel Bwala, in a recent appearance on Channels Television programme, Politics Today, disclosed that as much as 11 APC governors were working covertly for Atiku’s electoral triumph.

Also, doubling down on its pessimism about Tinubu’s chances of earning Buhari’s support base, the PDP campaign organisation pointed to APC’s recent campaign stop at Adamawa to buttress its argument that things have fallen apart between the Presidency and the Tinubu campaign council.

In a statement shortly after the electioneering event in Yola, spokesperson of PDP presidential organisation, Kola Ologbondiyan, said President Buhari’s refusal to enjoin his supporters in Adamawa to vote for Tinubu shows that the outgoing President was not on the same page with the APC Presidential candidate.

Ologbonduiyan stated: ““It is clear that President Buhari attended the APC Presidential rally, after much prodding, only to satisfy partisan exigencies and not to campaign for Asiwaju Tinubu, who is badgered by allegations for which most well-meaning Nigerians have distanced themselves from his Presidential bid.

“Our Campaign is therefore not surprised that President Buhari avoided the booby trap of smearing his image by refusing to campaign for Asiwaju Tinubu at the rally. It was indeed a pitiable sight to behold as Asiwaju Tinubu watched Mr. President’s mouth, expecting him to campaign for him and speak words of commendation on his personality, which to his embarrassment, never came.

“Even when President Buhari, who was about to leave the campaign stage, was reminded by the APC National Chairman, Senator Abdullahi Adamu, to address the gathering in Hausa language, Mr. President merely described him (Tinubu) as being nominated by the party and failed to campaign for him.”

As the February 25 presidential election date draws closer, both APC and PDP have deviated from issues-driven campaigns and descended into attacks in apparent repudiation of the peace accord signed under the auspices of the National Peace Committee (NPC).

While it is impossible to wish away the potentials of the NNPP presidential standard bearer, Senator Kwankwaso, to cut his own fraction from Buhari’s vote bank, the former Kano State governor has vowed not to step down from the race to leave the space for APC and PDP to settle their old scores.

Alluding to the strife within PDP that preceded his move to NNPP, Kwankwaso, bragged that he entered into the presidential race to win, stressing that it would was insulting to suggest that he was planning to opt out of the contest.

Weighing into the inter-party contestations, a human rights activist, Dele Farotimi, said APC and PDP are troubled by frustration ensuing from the momentum from the Labour Party (LP). The lawyer noted that “Peter Obi is the ‘x’ variable,” explaining that Mr. LP presidential candidate was the one they didn’t plan for or expect.

His words: “The assumption was that we would be snookered into a choice of stupid and evil, it was always going to be between Atiku and whoever the APC was going to throw forth.

“The APC deliberately waited for PDP to confirm his candidacy before presuming to bring out its own, they never factored in an Obi candidacy or a movement evolving around his candidacy.”

The Lagos-based human rights legal practitioner remarked that the fact that surveys conducted by pollsters returned a high number of undecided voters shows that the surprise element that LP’s Obi has brought into the contest.

“The polls are not even reflective of the truth,” he stated. “All those undecided, they are Peter Obi’s voters who are afraid of the consequences of confessing who they will vote for, they are Peter Obi supporters.

“So what you are seeing are people who are hiding their voting intention, because of fear and intimidation, but nobody will follow them into the polling booth on that day. I am telling you without equivocation I expect a Peter Obi’s landslide.”

Whatever happens during the election, it would be seen come February 25 how far the latent Buhari’s ballot and Northwest votes were able to determine the ultimate winner. But, with two veteran presidential candidates from the north in the race-Atiku and Kwankwaso-no political party reserves the bragging rights about sweeping the northwest votes.

Tinubu’s recent campaign rally in Kano did much to show that APC remains powerfully in contention, just as Atiku boasts of longstanding political allies in the Kadashian states. But, with Kwankwaso’s Kwankwasiyya Movement and Senator Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed ralying the Obidient Movement, Northwest would prove a huge ballot shopping mart for the for front row contenders.